ATLANTA – The result wasn’t what Tata Martino wanted, but even after Juventus claimed the 2018 MLS All-Star Game via a penalty shootout at the MLS All-Stars’ expense, the Argentine manager was pleased with the performance that his thrown-together side delivered.
After Juventus’ Andrea Favilli and Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez traded first-half goals, the Bianconeri prevailed 5-3 in the shootout that followed, with Mattia De Sciglio converting the decisive penalty. That said, it was a match that saw plenty of chances created by both sides that served to entertain the fans.
“I think the team as a whole did very well,” said Martino at his postgame news conference. “I think they lived up to the expectations of the fans, and they put on a good show. So hopefully the crowd could enjoy it.”
The biggest cheer of the night came when Martinez equalized in the 26th minute, scoring with a brave header following a goalmouth scramble. It was a fitting sequence for a player who currently leads the MLS Golden Boot race with 24 goals on the season.
“Every time Josef scores, it makes me happy,” said Martino. “Hopefully he can score for us on the weekend as well.”
Probably what pleased Martino the most was how quickly his side came together, no small feat given that the MLS All-Stars were drawn from 17 different teams and had just two training sessions with which to become acquainted with one another. Yet Martino’s team didn’t just sit back and defend, and had plenty of the ball over the course of the game.
“I thought for large parts of the game we were able to control Juventus and we were also able to control possession for large stretches of the game,” said Martino.
“I think especially in the first half, the team was able to get out on some really good counter-attacks and taking advantage of that and playing quickly to counter. Taking into account that we only had about two days together, I think everyone did an excellent job in the first half and the second half.”
Martino was particularly pleased with the way his side contained Juventus playmaker Miralem Pjanic.
“[Pjanic is] excellent initiating the play out of the back, so we wanted to make sure we pressured him and didn’t allow him to feel comfortable in initiating the play,” said Martino.
“I thought in the first half Miguel [Almiron] did an excellent job at that, and in the second half [Diego] Valeri was in that role, playing in that position to put some pressure on [the opponent].
“We know that we have a responsibility to try and play in this game and not just contain and try and defend against Juventus. This is a team of MLS All-Stars, the best players in the league chosen by the fans and by the coach, so we felt like we had a responsibility to really try and impose our own style on the game.”
Martino was also successful in spreading out playing time amongst his players, an important consideration given that most of the performers have league games to play this weekend.
“We took everything into account and we were thinking about the minutes for the players,” said Martino. “Some of them had longer trips than others, coming from different parts of the country and with different game schedules.
“In reality we didn’t change any of our plans that we made from last week in regards to the amount of minutes, with the exception that Aaron Long played an extra 15 minutes for Michael Parkhurst because he picked up an ankle injury in our last game so he wasn’t training fully with us, so Aaron Long got the extra minutes.”
All told it was a match that entertained, and left a positive impression.
“Everything I have to say is positive,” said Martino. “The league and Atlanta put on this show together.
“They were able to show off our beautiful stadium, the amazing crowd that we have in Atlanta. I think it was a positive sign for Atlanta as a city and also for the league.”
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